Developing teacher leadership and its impact in schools

Developing teacher leadership and its impact in schools

Leadership of teachers is considered as one of the key factors for innovation and quality improvement in schools. However, as leadership qualities are not a standard element in initial teacher education programs, arrangements for post-initial professional development of teachers in schools needs to address the development of teacher leadership qualities.

In my dissertation I focused on two questions: what learning arrangements are effective in supporting teachers in developing their leadership qualities? And to what extent and under what conditions can development of these leadership qualities impact practices in school?

Based on an analysis of trends and developments in post-initial teacher education, three possible learning arrangements for developing teacher leadership can be identified, a school-centered arrangement (e.g. in an academic development school or PDS), an institutional-centered arrangement (through a formal university-driven Master’s program), and a partnership arrangement (through a partnership-driven Master’s program).

Literature reviews on effective learning environments for teachers emphasize school-centered designs which focus on daily practices in school and which take teachers as co-creators of the program. Post-initial Masters programs for teachers often do not meet these design criteria, as they are university-centered with fixed curricula that can hardly be influenced by the participants.

Nevertheless, Master’s programs are often promoted as one of the pathways for teacher development and improvement of schools. Underlying assumption is that improved teacher competences resulting from a Master’s program will have a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning in schools. Master’s programs that are designed as an intervention for professional development are expected to have impact on the workplace. This raises questions concerning the transfer of competences that are developed during the Master’s program towards the workplace.

Based on a qualitative study amongst graduates from a post-initial Master’s program on teacher leadership and their supervisors, it can be concluded that teachers that were engaged in the Master’s program developed their leadership competences and were motivated to use these competences at their school to support school development. However, only one third of the graduates felt that they had the opportunity to use these competences within their school at levels outside their own classrooms. These opportunities were connected to strategic partnerships that they developed with their supervisor at school (school leader or team leader). More than half of the graduates felt frustrated that they did not have the opportunity to use their leadership competences as the school structure and culture did not create room for teacher leadership. They felt not recognized and supported.

This outcome confirmed that the Master’s program had unsufficient alignment with school structures and cultures. The program focused on individual participants and their professional development while the participants were expected to bridge the boundaries between school and university. However, when teachers who were changed by completing a Master’s program, returned to unchanged schools, they had a hard if not impossible job to change the school on their own.

This outcomes confirmed the boundaries between school and universities. These boundaries need to be taken into account if the ambition is that Master’s graduates will contribute to a change in schools. Based on these outcomes, the program design was adapted, by understanding the Master’s program as a boundary zone between school and universities and creating a partnership-based design. The thesis project and other assignments of the master’s students were considered as boundary objects that could support a profession dialogue between the activity systems of school and university. The process of boundary crossing was strengthened by having several participants from one school, creating a critical mass with the schools. Also, the schools were engaged in the development of the program, creating a strategic alignment between the aims of the Master’s program and the strategic aims of the schools. The teachers were positioned as senior teachers within the schools, strengthening them in a position that could not be ignored.

This new design led to an increase of the impact of the program: the participants could use their newly developed competences and contribute both to changes in their work environment and in the leadership practices within their teams. Key factors in this process were the strategic alignment between the program aims and the change agenda of the schools, the collectiveness of the program and the way in which the participants were positioned in their schools. At the same time the involvement of supervisors from the schools and university teachers in a professional dialogue connecting the two activity systems were still limited. Boundary objects were missing that could facilitate a three-way dialogue between participants, their supervisors from the schools, and their university teachers. Both university teachers and supervisors limited their roles to a two way dialogue with the participant, keeping the participant still as a negotiator between two worlds. The challenge is to develop boundary objects that can turn the two-way dialogues into a three-way dialogue.

Summarizing, the studies raise a number of challenges both for schools and for providers of in-service professional development programs for teachers:

  • If post-initial programs aim to impact school practice, their design should not only focus on professional development of individuals, but also on initiating interventions at the school level.
  • Therefore these programs need to be based on a shared alignments between aims of the program and the innovation agenda of the school
  • To reach that alignment, such programs need to be developed in partnership.
  • Activities within the program should aim at stimulating a professional dialogue between school and university where three stakeholders are involved: the Master’s student, his supervisor at the school and his university teacher.

Marco Snoek, Expertise Centre for Teaching and Education, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Snoek, M. (2014). Developing teacher leadership and its impact in schools. Amsterdam, HvA.


Responses (5)

  1. Name (required)Roger
    February 3, 2015 at 12:03 am · Reply

    an interesting clear and coherent account from the Netherlands. But I take a different view of how a Masters programme works. Here, it is said “the underlying assumption is that improved teacher competences resulting from a Master’s program will have a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning in schools”; a question is then raised as to the extent these competences are ‘transferred’.
    But I think Masters Programmes should be more ambitions than this – and the ones with I have been associated as student, Programme Director, and External Examiner have been, I believe. More ambitious in that the teacher change involved is more significant and longer lasting than an increase in competence – it is a change in teacher thinking, in understandings of the nature of practice and of how to develop practice. For me, this has involved, as just a starter, a deeper understanding of the nature of history teaching, of the principles of curriculum design and development – and how to evaluate. At other times, it has underpinned thinking about what I am aiming to do, about what sort of teacher I am… and so on. These seem to me to be changes of greater significance for children’s (and teachers’) learning than can be achieved by the development of teacher competences.
    Having said that, I share the value placed on the nature of the three-way dialogue described in the blog, even if I am not convinced that teachers cannot do this without what seems to me to suggest a high level of direction from those outside a school. In the blog, it is said that programme “design should not only focus on professional development of individuals, but also on initiating interventions at the school level”. But I don’t see these foci as competing ones. Quite the opposite. The quality of interventions, and the evaluation of these, depends upon the quality of the professional development of the individual teachers. High quality Masters level professional development fuels teachers’ ambitions, it creates the desire as well as the ability to make interventions which are significant in terms of the quality of children’s learning.
    This is a response to a stimulating blog, so I haven’t supported it with the paraphernalia of references, but there are plenty of these available.
    The blog also unintentionally raises a question for those of us working in England. If this wide ranging dialogue is important for the development of teachers, is it also important for the t education on those training to teacher?

    • Ardy
      December 11, 2015 at 3:40 am · Reply

      I think that you and those who replied naivtgeely to your suggestion are actually not thinking that differently. You suggested giving assignments that build competence in journal writing because you see that as a relevant part of a career; your colleagues would rather see other kinds of writing assignments because they see those as more relevant. I would say that you are both right – in particular contexts. In a PhD course where students are actually training to be researchers, the journal article assignments make sense. In fact, I had a PhD course in history designed exactly that way: we had assignments to write book reviews, write a conference paper, and deliver the paper orally – all things a good historian should be able to do but skills rarely taught. In an MBA course, however, the writing assignments should be things like how to write an executive summary for a report or an effective client letter, appropriately integrating graphs/illustrations in reports, making clear powerpoint presentations, etc. These are all skills necessary in the business world, but again, rarely taught directly. These assignments would also teach clarity of thought and language, just as the journal writing assignments would.P.S. I’m a regular reader of your blog, but first time poster. I too feel very strongly about teaching students critical writing/researching/thinking skills.

  2. Marco Snoek
    February 6, 2015 at 11:50 am · Reply

    Dear Roger,
    Thanks for your response to my contribution to the IPDA blog.
    I can agree with your comments and it creates an opportunity to clarify a few things.
    The first part of your comment is on teacher competences. I realize that there is a profound difference in the way in which the term ‘competence’ in the English context and the Dutch equivalent ‘competentie’ are used and understood. In the Dutch context we understand the term competence in a much wider and open meaning. Because of this difference in understanding, I avoided the term ‘competence’ in my dissertation and used ‘quality’ instead. I should have avoided the term competence in the blog-text too. In my experience, a Master’s program contributes to a change of self-understanding, self-awareness and professional identity, which extends far beyond gaining new skills in teaching.

    I also agree on you remark that a focus on professional development of individuals and a focus on school development are not competing ones. However, in my experience (within the Dutch context), often the focus is mainly on professional development of individuals. We expect that this individual professional development will have impact on schools and on the quality of learning in schools, but this impact can not be taken for granted. My main message is that designers of Master’s programs need to rethink their program design, preferably together with representatives from schools, on how a Master’s program can have an optimal impact schools. For too many teachers who are engaged in post-initial Master’s programs focusing on developing teacher leadership in the Netherlands, the Master’s program leads to frustration as there is no culture of distributed leadership in their schools and they can hardly use their newly developed leadership qualities, their new self-understanding in contexts that exceed their classrooms.

  3. Cathal
    March 20, 2015 at 8:55 am · Reply

    Dear colleagues
    Designing and teaching Masters programmes in ways that improve the benefits for everybody concerned is very worthwhile. I can see the importance of offer Masters options to teachers that dovetail with their own daily priorities and those of their school, while at the same time challenging them to think about their practice and act in new ways, in ways they had not already envisioned. There will therefore need to be a careful negotiation with regard to programme design to create and sustain that productive tension, initially and throughout the lifetime of the programme, i.e., the optimum balance between priorities for the three partners: student (i.e., the individual teacher), school management; academic faculty.
    Marco notes that, ‘The thesis project and other assignments of the master’s students were considered as boundary objects that could support a profession dialogue between the activity systems of school and university. The process of boundary crossing was strengthened by having several participants from one school, creating a critical mass with the schools.’
    But the boundary crossing and the shared dialogue also got me thinking about student assessment (i.e. the teachers) as I think such a partnership programme introduces a new dynamic not present in more in other Masters programmes where the boundaries are more distinct. I’m thinking particularly about situations where there are several teachers from the same school doing the Masters, and where the basis for the teachers’ assignments is more directly linked to the work in school, and where the whole process may be more public. I think if it wasn’t properly addressed, it could lead to contestation and distraction. I’m wondering if your research Marco says anything on this issue, and how best this can be managed. I think it would require a new approach to assessment.

    • Jim
      December 11, 2015 at 3:36 am · Reply

      Dinamani will wait for opportunity to blame Govt scloohs and teachers at the drop of hat.But it will not talk about lack of toilets in Govt scloohs.The so called elite private scloohs where they are minting money by making swimming compulsory even for a third std student,are also not having enough toilets for girl students.Parents who give blank cheques to these scloohs are also not bothered.

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